Everything the San Diego Select basketball team had psyched itself up to worry about was true.
Saturday night in front of 1,200 at San Diego State’s Peterson Gym, the Soviet Junior National team defeated San Diego, 80-71, to give the Soviets their first victory after three losses on their 15-city U.S. tour.
“I’m actually really happy,” San Diego Select Coach Bill Peterson said. “We only had eight practices, only two when all the kids were there. We didn’t get blown out. It was a good game, and I thought it was very entertaining.
Before the first visit by the Soviet juniors to San Diego, Peterson, coach at Kearny High, said he was concerned about their intimidating size and practice time together. San Diego, he said, couldn’t compete on either point.
What they hadn’t counted on was Yuri Leonov and his three-point shooting ability in the second half. Leonov had four three-pointers as the Soviets erased a 40-38 halftime deficit.
“I thought the Soviet shot the three-pointer better than we had been told,” Peterson said.
The Soviets were four of 14 on three-pointers after halftime, compared with San Diego’s feeble one for 12.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities,” Valhalla’s Tony Clark said. “We had a lot of chances, but we just missed. My best shot’s from 15 (feet) in, and if I had gotten hot . . . “
The Soviets led only once in the first half, on a turn-around jumper by Sergey Grezin that made it 33-32. San Diego came back with less than a minute to play to take the lead, 37-35, on a missed three-pointer by Joe Temple that was rebounded by Joe McNaull. Ray McDavid finished the first-half scoring with a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Despite three Soviets fouling out in the second half, San Diego couldn’t hold its slim lead. Any remaining momentum waned with just under eight minutes to play as the Soviets took the lead for good. With 7:46 remaining, Leonov hit a layup that put the Soviets ahead, 64-63. San Diego never really challenged after that.
“We lost our continuity,” Torrey Pines Kevin Flanagan said. “At the end, we didn’t have it. Obviously, they’ve been playing together for a long time.”
Flanagan finished with 10 points. San Diego’s leading scorer was Lincoln High’s Aaron Wilhite, who had 21. McDavid added 14, and San Diego’s Clark James had 12.
“I thought Wilhite and McDavid played excellent,” Peterson said.
Peterson said fatigue was a factor and that “we had kids in foul trouble, and there was that period when we got two points in five minutes (from 8:03 to 3:57).”
“I would say the Soviets couldn’t have lost another one,” he said. “They couldn’t have gone 0-4 or they would have aborted this tour, so they had a lot of intensity.”
The Soviets, who lost their first three games to New York, Iowa and Indiana all-stars, were led by Leonov with 27 points.
San Diego took a 3-0 lead and were then tied on a three-pointer by Leonov. But the visitors looked out of sync and slow as San Diego reeled off 10 points for a 13-3 lead with 16 minutes remaining.